Bersin: Border security shouldnÆt impede trade
At a House hearing on efforts to combat Mexican drug cartels and reduce violence on the Southwest border, new U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin emphasized that properly designed security measures can protect the nation without harming commerce.
'We can be economically competitive as we enhance our security. We will adopt strategies that simultaneously improve security and expedite legitimate trade and travel,' Bersin said in his first testimony before Congress since being appointed by President Barack Obama in late March without going through the Senate confirmation process.
CBP's refrain during the past eight years has been that it's twin missions are border security and trade facilitation, although many importers and exporters say security requirements still trump efforts to simplify Customs clearance and compliance procedures.
Bersin, who spent the previous year as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's special representative on southwest border affairs, told the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee that he wants to build on trusted trader and traveler programs such as FAST, SENTRI, NEXUS and Global Entry.
The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program offers expedited clearance for carriers and shippers enrolled in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program by reducing the amount of documentation required at crossing, providing dedicating lanes to FAST participants and reducing inspection levels. Under the program, drivers must be pre-vetted as low-risk through a review of their identification and citizenship documents.
SENTRI and NEXUS are southern and northern border programs, respectively, that allow registered travelers to speed through border checkpoints and Global Entry offers the same benefit at airports for international travelers.
'We can have enhanced security while reducing the cost and inconvenience to legitimate trade and travelers' through better targeting that allows Customs officers to focus on the small amount of illegitimate inbound cargo that poses a potential safety and security risk, Bersin said.
As of December 2009, CBP had seized more than $38.3 million in currency since DHS implemented its Southwest Border Initiative one year ago to stem the flow of outbound contraband that supports Mexican drug dealers, he said. The increased level of outbound inspections of travelers and commercial vehicles netted $29.3 million more than during the same period in 2008.
During the first six months of fiscal year 2010, the agency confiscated $8.7 million in currency and 71 firearms at southwest border ports of entry.
Meanwhile, sister agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May will begin training Mexican Customs personnel on investigative techniques modeled on training that ICE special agents receive, Assistant Secretary John Morton said.
More than 19,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began an all-out campaign to crush drug gangs. One of his goals is to turn Mexican Customs into a professional law enforcement force. Last year he replaced the entire Customs force with newly trained agents in an effort to eliminate corruption.
The ICE training course, which will last one month, is designed to help Mexican Customs officers better understand U.S. and Mexican customs laws and law enforcement best practices, Morton said.
'Increased investigative capabilities will support the prosecution of criminal customs violations in Mexico and will improve bilateral information sharing and investigative efforts. These new capacities will enable the government of Mexico to stem the abuse of the international shipping systems to bring contraband into the United States,' the ICE chief said. ' Eric Kulisch